Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: David Pershall
Photographed in New York by Dario Acosta
Grooming by Affan Malik
© Dario Acosta 2013
David Pershall dispatches his smooth, evenly produced lyric baritone with elegance and style, but there's something else underneath it — a certain bite and gravitas that pull in the listener immediately. It's a combination that makes him ideal for French repertoire, as he demonstrated at the 2011 winners concert of the Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition. His masterly performance of Hamlet's "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" was one of the evening's highlights.
Pershall was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Temple, Texas, dead center in the Lone Star State, and went on to attend Baylor University. His first voice teacher, George Hogan, introduced him to opera during his high-school years via the recordings of Robert Merrill. "I thought, 'Why don't I know about this?'" Pershall remembers. "The tone that poured out of Merrill and Leonard Warren was amazing. My taste has since changed a bit. I really enjoy Cappuccilli and Bastianini and the older Italian guys. It's hard to do much better than that." This month, Pershall returns to Texas for a concert at Dallas Opera.
While Pershall was a resident artist at Virginia Opera, bass-baritone Christian Van Horn suggested that he study at Yale University. Pershall took Van Horn's advice and benefited from working with directors from the Yale Drama School. "You get to watch your colleagues and see what does and doesn't work, and why," says Pershall. "We took a lot of the Shakespeare sonnets and soliloquies apart. Shakespeare in his writing is almost musical — you can sing a Shakespeare monologue onstage and almost get away with it. I got turned on to a book by Barry Edelstein called Thinking Shakespeare, which goes through the process of each line meaning something, and how you can translate it into your own words and say it these days."
Currently, Pershall enjoys studying with Mark Oswald (with whom he shares much repertory). His attitude toward teachers seems remarkably healthy. "I have always believed that one teacher cannot be your entire salvation — one man or woman won't necessarily have all the answers for every part of what's going on. I disdain that aspect of some teachers — the ones who say 'It's my way or the highway.' I'm the performer, and I want to go home saying that I did it my way — not that I blew out my voice and it's someone else's fault."
Pershall also concentrates on keeping himself in good physical condition. "I've dropped forty pounds and found that I have greater breath control," he says. "What looks good in high def is not necessarily what looks good from 200 feet away at the Met. And apart from the technical aspect of singing, you need to bring a strong opinion about the story and plot line — about every character, not just yours. If you don't do that, it's kind of a dud. Nobody wants to be a dud."
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